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These last Chinese chefs

Da Dong Peking Roast Duck Restaurant, named after its charismatic chef-entrepreneur Dong Zhenxiang, serves up Peking duck and foie gras, sometimes on the same platter. A typical menu offering can be either Boston lobster served with Beijing zhajiang noodles or a cigar of Yangzhou-style rice-wine marinated crab roe and meat with chilled foie gras. In the last decade, Da Dong has changed its menu every year. Chef Dong says his insistence on refreshing the choices offered to his customers is simple. He intends to keep them coming.

Dong is a market leader today, and his creations are praised by critics and copied by competitors. To many, he is the chef leading Chinese cuisine out of the doldrums and into an age of renaissance, but he tells us he has no such lofty ambitions, merely a desire to claim his fair share of the market.

"The only criteria is customer preference," he says. "Sometimes a chef thinks it is a good dish, but the diners may not like it. The market finds its own level."

Dong says the food at his restaurant, which he calls "artistic conception cuisine", is his response to heightened taste and palate awareness among his patrons, as well as a better appreciation of culinary lifestyle. Dong caters to them by applying aesthetics like Chinese painting, miniature landscaping, poems and prose to his food, creating an experience that starts with the calligraphy on the menu to the delicate carvings on the plate. He also believes in following the seasons, a concept extracted from his classical training in Shandong cuisine. So he travels to Tianmu Mountain in Zhejiang for its famous bamboo shoots and serves them fried with preserved winter vegetables in a section of bamboo, garnished with a sprig of plum blossoms.

"The direction is to learn from and follow Nature," says Dong. "What Nature has to offer is the best." To him, fusion cooking is a natural response to changing times and China's cuisine will continue to fuse and merge just as its people will continue to migrate and assimilate. When we ask Dong to look into the crystal ball, he says: "It will be a fusion of the different branches of Chinese cuisine. It will also incorporate healthy cooking and techniques and ingredients gathered from all over China, and the world." 


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